Serenity Still Soars Regardless of the Medium
Although the above is part of the narrative introduction to the Firefly Universe, it could also serve as the modus operandi of the 2002 television drama created by Joss Whedon. Cancelled by the FOX network after only 11 episodes, Whedon—as well as fans—fought to keep the series going, eventually paving the way for a big-screen sequel, Serenity. While hopes for an additional motion picture never came to fruition, the story of a renegade “Browncoat” (as the Independents were known) and his rag-tag crew of “space-scavengers” continues nonetheless in the three-part Dark Horse comic book, Better Days (2008). With a plot co-conceived by Joss Whedon and former Firefly writer Brett Matthews, who also penned the script, it is the second such venture into the world of comics for the television show that wouldn’t give up.
The first Serenity graphic conception, the three-issue Those Left Behind, was released in 2005 and served as a prequel to the Serenity motion picture. While “companion” Inara Serra had already decided to leave Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew during an unaired Firefly episode, the explanation for preacher Shepherd Book not being amongst the group at the beginning of the film is clarified in Those Left Behind. The miniseries also briefly introduces future characters Mingo and Fanty, as well as the Operative, while bringing back old characters like Dobson and Badger, and concludes with what could be considered the starting point for the big-screen Serenity.
The placement of Better Days in the Firefly/Serenity timeline, meanwhile, is harder to pinpoint, although it obviously occurs before Those Left Behind. It is also a more straightforward, stand-alone story in that events both before and after are not referenced, including the pursuit by the Alliance for the telepathic River Tam. Instead the core of the narrative revolves around multiple capers by the crew, as well as elements from Mal and first mate Zoe’s war-fighting past, all of which eventually converge by the conclusion of the three-part series. Although each of these Dark Horse trilogies have their fair share of action and suspense, both focus more on the characters in the same fashion that Firefly the television series and Serenity the motion picture did, making the comic books true companions to the original incarnations.
“The characters, I think, are what most appeal to me as a writer,” Matthews told IGN in March 2008 regarding his involvement. “Beyond that, the many fans and just the world Joss has created. I love the merging of genres in the series. But Serenity always comes back to the characters and the ensemble nature of the show. Other things might get you in the door, but the characters are what keep you there.”
While each of the nine main characters from Firefly/Serenity do indeed play a role in both comic book series, it is Reynolds that serves as the psychological focal point. In Those Left Behind, for instance, he continues to deny his obvious affection for Inara while likewise making excuses for not immediately traveling to her disembarkment destination. And when Inara finally does leave, not only does Mal forgo any farewells, but he also recites his true feelings later, alone, in an imaginary goodbye. As for Better Days, it is Inara who plays the captain’s therapist, noting that his ambition in life is simply to eke out an existence as opposed to becoming wealthy, because that way his crew—his family—remains intact. “You get by and the crew stays together,” she says. “You get rich, then everything does change.” The irony is that in both Those Left Behind and the Serenity motion picture, Mal’s “family” starts to leave anyway, causing his subsequent actions to become more introverted and reckless.
“Usually that’s what bothers me with prequels,” Matthews explained to IGN. “You always tend to feel, ‘Well, if I already know how it ends...’ But the tragedy of Firefly was that it was just taken away. The future was lost and it just sort of died this sad, premature death. Part of the joy of the comics is being able to reclaim some of what was lost along the way and occupy that time period where there’s still a lot of room to play in.”
Firefly has become that rare creation that is successful in whatever storytelling format Joss Whedon decides to pursue. Although cancelled by FOX, the DVD of the complete series has sold over half-a-million copies and continues to perform well years after its initial release. The same holds true for Serenity. Dark Horse, meanwhile reports that 85,000 copies of Those Left Behind were sold in 2005. Just as the actual Serenity—a Firefly-class spaceship—always seems to fly beneath the Alliance’s radar despite the odds, so does Whedon’s creation. It may not get the mainstream attention it deserves, but succeeds nonetheless.
“That’s kind of the amazing thing about Firefly,” offered Matthews to IGN. “I don’t know what the opposite word of resurgence is, but there’s just never been a lull. I don’t know how something resurges when it’s always been so damn alive and kicking. The fans of the show are fans in a profound sort of way that I’ve never experienced or seen. It’s been really great that way. If anyone mentions a resurgence I just ask them where they’ve been. Firefly has always been there, and it’s always had that whole other life. Better Days is just a part of that.”
It would appear that regardless of the medium, Serenity still finds a way to soar.